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Sarkozy Ends Visit to Britain Amid Pledges of Closer Ties


French President Nicolas Sarkozy winds up a two-day state visit to Britain Thursday with promises of greater cooperation and closer bilateral ties within Europe to face new global challenges. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London, the visit contained some substance and lots of pageantry and style.

Holding the final news conference of an official state visit in a soccer stadium may be somewhat unusual, but French President Sarkozy is known for flouting convention.

Mr. Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and their ministers wrapped up summit meetings Thursday at London's Emirates Stadium. Afterwards - a joint news conference.

Mr. Brown said the visit was not simply a reminder of a historic alliance, but also signified, what he called, a "dynamic relationship."

"Together we will address the challenges of this new global era, together we are well placed to do so," Mr. Brown said. "Our two countries are at the heart of what we want to be an outward-looking and globally focused Europe. We both favor a strong relationship with our American partners, we agree that only by working together can we confront the challenges we face from terrorism, from climate change, poverty, disease and from failed states."

Similar words from President Sarkozy.

The emphasis was on mutual praise, and President Sarkozy was adamant about having Britain firmly within Europe and acting as a bridge between Europe and the United States.

In an impassioned speech before both houses of the British parliament on Wednesday, President Sarkozy made a similar plea - to have Britain and France lead the way within Europe on issues from climate change, immigration and EU reforms to defense and foreign policy.

President Sarkozy also said his government is ready to increase its military presence in Afghanistan under certain conditions. He said he will announce details at next week's NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.

Speaking to VOA in Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said that will be welcome.

"It will make a difference, if he [Sarkozy] makes that announcement, and I think we can be confident that he will, it will continue the increase in the number of forces that we have. We now have 47,000 troops on the ground. A thousand French troops by definition will be (a) good thing," he said.

France currently has some 1,500 troops serving in Afghanistan.

In London, President Sarkozy rejected any notion that his visit was more flattery than substance. Yet, this first state visit to Britain by a French president in over a decade, was watched closely not just for the substance of the talks, but also for how Mr. Sarkozy and his new wife would appear in public.

Much of the media attention was on Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the Italian-born model turned pop singer and now France's first lady. And the visit included plenty of pageantry - beginning with a formal invitation to Windsor Castle, a horse-drawn carriage ride and lunch with Queen Elizabeth.

Yet, this was also an important opportunity for Mr. Sarkozy to display a new, more serious presidential style. The president has come under sharp criticism in France for his very public divorce last year and quick new romance and third marriage and for his extravagant and non-conventional style. His public approval ratings have dropped sharply. His state visit to Britain was being closely watched in France to see if he could turn his image around.

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